17th Sept: fervour/flavour
by Vivien Chan
In the morning I check out, finally out into the cloying sun. My final dinner, the pièce de résistance, was a seafood cheese noodle dish. The chunks of mussels were chewy and sweet but having had richness for several days, I could barely stomach it. A massive breakfast also unfortunately ended up mostly intact in the last rubbish bag of quarantine. I'm still rubbing my hands together for forgiveness for wasting so much food, but 'tis the muchness of this city. It's setting me up to be full and happy. I'm so happy I'm a bit out of it - I miss the stop on the way home, and have to double back twice, giving up and walking in the midday sun. I feel less bad when I get in the taxi and the driver doesn’t quite know where he’s going either. Maybe it’s the heat today. Why do all the babies look so cute, the auntie fashion so exciting, the hotties on the MTR so gorgeous, in such an intense way this time? I’d covered my tattoos in a cardigan thinking that I’d be scolded, but today I admire them all on other people out in the sunshine, everyone’s glowing brown skin for all to see, bodies out and adorned so brilliantly. I’m relieved for the idea and opportunity to dress as scant as I want during this trip. Maybe at some point, we all just stopped caring what our mother’s think. I’m grateful for my mask, lest it reveals all my happy tears. The city is still as mine as it was.
Either way I make it home to my grandma’s flat in the New Towns, a place that holds spoonfuls of memories, sometimes fond, sometimes (gently) traumatic. The first time I got food poisoning at 10 years old, I was lying down in this spot feverish, and throwing up in a bucket. Popo had given me vinegar, to bring it all up. I learned how to play mahjong here, and won my first gaai wu, chicken win, with a sense of approval. Living here alone, I would bump into roaches on the way to the loo in the middle of the night, giving up on my midnight wee but nevertheless unable to sleep. Cooking myself bowls of tofu kimchi in her unruly kitchen set-up, sometimes sad and desperate, other times a relief from every meal out. Sitting with popo booking emergency flights out of Hong Kong three years ago. Her serving us a curious bony fish called dou ju, knife fish, pan fried and crispy, while recounting her career. Her greatest pride is the view out of her 34th floor onto the mountains, and I don’t disagree. Maybe unlike a lot of places in this city, the nights here in her flat are coolish and quiet.
It’s a respite from the heat and the fervour, but I leave almost immediately. I’m hungry even by the thought of seeing the faces of my friends, all of us sweating and divine. The lunch and dinner K made for me just reassures me of all the time we will have together, all the time I’ll have in Hong Kong. I arrive to her cooking something refreshing - almonds, red onion, toasted millet, with tiny shreds of lemon zest stirred in, followed by macaroni with roasted veggies. It cuts through my hotel sauce saturation. We sneak buns on the bus between excursions, impulse buying, dreaming, and reeling. Dinner is steamed salmon, with a swirl of spaghetti seasoned with Palestinian zataar, the most slender slithers of Thai asparagus (acquired from a fancy grocers in an emergency) cooked in butter, the last dribbles of a jar of Swedish sweet mustard-y dill dressing. As I’m tasting this care, I’m excited to cook for her too.
In a way, reunions have their novelty and their own domesticity. Plans and intentions collide together with the speed of the metropolis. The group chat with J, J, and S reveals that between us, we might just be bringing four bottles of booze to the party, a flight of bottles of red, white and prosecco. We’ll be getting a ferry together to our final destination, where ‘chef C’ has invited us for drinks and the sunset from their balcony. P says ‘Pick a restaurant and have a big meal, I owe you!’ after we settle on our multi-stage plan these next weeks. I’m being invited into their worlds, and we want to be close by, if only to absorb all the nutrition of this moment, feed, be fed, quench. I’m so luscious, so smooth, so full of flavour. I just want to be here with you.
Vivien Chan, she/they
Vivien is a design researcher, educator and occasional maker based in the UK. She is currently finishing her PhD and researching design history and material culture in Hong Kong, and East and Southeast Asia more broadly. She is otherwise found sowing seeds and making sensations.